Perhaps one of the greatest beauties of living the “feminist lifestyle” is that it encourages those living it to be introspective, and examine life and gender politics through feminist lens. Such perspectives, it seems, can be applied to almost every situation in life – from the mundane of the romantic rejections that almost all of us, at one point in our lives, have gone through, to situations with world-changing ramification.
This piece, then, is is an exploration of the personal rather than the political, and seeks to deconstruct misogyny and the objectification of women in relations to romantic rejections and society’s constructions of maleness. It is my assertion that misogyny exists today partly because masculinity as we know it has failed men, and that to create a better, more equal world for both women and men, an introduction of a new masculinity – a change in attitudes and behaviors, is sorely needed.
Whether in the developing regions of the world or here in America and other “Global North,” developed nations, violence against women is fact of life that often gets overlooked, and when none-feminist entities look at the problem and they often lay blame on religion and religious institutions, quick in pointing the finger at Islam or religious conservatives as the culprit. But I assert that the majority of these crimes, after having looked at the statistics, is based on one very simple reason: a bruised male ego and a sexist society that continues to feed into the belief that the values of men are based on the women with whom they are (or aren’t), and more specifically, what it means to be male in the context or sexual and romantic relationships with women. In short, one of the reasons violence against women continues to take place is that masculinity as defined by the patriarchy renders men helpless in many emotional situations, causing them, instead to physically act out their aggression, rather than learning to effectively deal with the emotional challenges.
As the personal narrative often helps with understanding feminist writers’ positions and how they arrived at their schools of thought, I want to briefly share my personal narrative: I was romantically rejected recently. While we’ve all had to deal with rejections, in one form or another before, this one especially mattered to me and hit me at the core, because the object of my affection was someone with whom I shared feminist values, and because of that, I’d emotionally invested in the possibility of being with her. To be specific, it hurt because she mattered.
Through it all, I was lucky enough to have had friends to lean on – those who I could call and talk to at all times of the day, often helping me deconstruct what had happened. But in all, there were also well-meaning friends who offered advice that wasn’t so good, and although it did not take up their advice and offers of comfort, I was able to draw from the interaction the gender construction that men are supposed to abide by, in relations to romantic rejection, and I posit that such constructions are not only dangerous for women, as the statistic have shown, but on a deeply personal level, can also be extremely dangerous to men’s emotional health.
As I stumbled back home Monday night, not having slept for several days and looking deeply wounded, two pieces of advice stood out to me. The first, an extremely close friend I’ve known for years, offered that if I took a trip to California to see him, where he would take me to strip clubs for all the naked women I’d wanted. For my friend, with whom I’d grown up, graduated high school together and gone on with our lives but still remained in touch, the solution to emotional pain is rather a simple one: numb the pain by dehumanizing women, rather than working through it and risk bruising one’s ego further.
A second friend wanted to be just as helpful. Upon seeing me, he gave me a hug, exclaiming that I looked like I needed one, and then proceeded to tell me to “fuck the [pain] away.” For this friend, the solution was also quite simple: there are others in the world, thus go out and fuck as many as possible – then, perhaps then, I’d forget. Through it all, in speaking with many, many friends, a clear picture came about: friends with feminist values encouraged me to talk about it, while non-feminist friends often came up with solutions that often involved tits and asses.
So what’s the issue behind this finding? Is it that feminists have different ways of dealing with troubled times, or is it that society’s definition of romanticism and masculinity has rendered many men incapable of truly finding solutions in troubled times, and relying and falling back, instead, on solely the physical, and objectification of women, for comfort?
If the answer is the latter, and I suspect that it is, objectification and misogyny, then, are often used not just because our “physical needs” render us objectifiers and misogynists, but rather, to mask and numb the pain that society, for too long, has told men they aren’t afforded. In place of talking to friends and deconstructing, or better yet, conducting oneself in honest self-evaluation, men are taught to numb the pain, which only compounds to the situation in which they are by not giving them the opportunity to emotionally reach out to others and learning from the rejection, thereby making them better for future partners and endevors. In a very specific sense, the objectication of women, especially in times of pain, is much easier, because if women are seen as less-than-human beings, their ability to hurt (nevermind that it wasn’t their fault) becomes less.
Further, by seeing women as objects and not people, the rejected will less likely become emotionally attached, thereby preventing them from being hurt in the future.Clearly misogyny ensures that women get the short end of the stick – but make no doubt about it, men get short-changed, too.
Perhaps the most problematic practice in the male practice of dating and romanticism is that, at the end of a rejection or relationship, the encouragement to self-evaluate isn’t there, and the shift of the blame is almost always on women. If a relationship doesn’t work out, or if a rejection were to take place, the fault is almost always placed on women, for “not knowing what she’s missing,” being “coldhearted” or worst yet, having led men on.
It is this androcentricism – the belief that men could do no wrong and that the world revolves around them, that’s often most damaging, for men because it prevents them from improving as human beings, but also for women because it puts them in a position in which they are always wrong, and indeed, if someone does something wrong, they not only deserve the blame, but violence against them, the argument follows, is much more acceptable because they “had it coming.”
Another cultural belief I want explore, in dating and romance, is a sense of male entitlement. This entitlement render women choiceless – that if given enough attention, or gifts, or emotional support, that no woman could ever say no, and if she does, it’s of course, her fault. This mentality, in turn, hurts women because they are never truly given a choice, in love or lust, because it is believed women could be bought – if not with money then with attention.
In either cases, women are turned from human beings with preferences in sexual and romantic partners, into objects that will give in if someone tried long enough. It is reasons like these that we often see violence against women – not because men were born to seek out and destroy women, but because male entitlement and social constructions of masculinity dictate men must protect their own egos and hearts, and will do so at the expense of women.
The issues above, while they have to do with men, are most certainly feminist issues, because women have a stake in it, too. It has to do with feminism because way too many women have been hurt by men with bruised egos, who, in turn, also ruined their own lives. Too many women in college and high schools have been raped because their dates were brought up to think sex is a competition. Too many women have had acids thrown on their faces because men couldn’t deal with the feelings of inadequacy from a rejection. Too many others have been stoned for simply choosing to embrace their sexuality. Too many others, too, have been maimed and killed and stalked and beaten simply because a former lover or love interest couldn’t take no for an answer, not because he loved her that much, but because we never taught him to honor her choices.Too may others, too, have been hurt because they dared choose whom to love.
Within the patiarchy, men are trained to reject women’s choices. Whether they be gay or straight, women are to be there and make themselves sexually and emotionally available to men. Anything less, it seems, and women risk being stalked, hurt, burned, murdered, simply for being human beings. It is time for a new masculinity, time to change a culture that promotes the emotional comfort and sexual satisfaction of men over the lives of women.
It isn’t just women who are hurt by patriarchy’s definition of masculinity. Men, too, are hurt for the reasons above, and because without being able to emotionally cope, human beings, regardless of gender, are more likely to be depressed and hurt themselves. If the Men’s Rights Activists are truly serious about men’s health and well-being, they, too, would choose to take on issues of the constructions of masculinity. But it’s not happening because they’re neither serious nor do they really have any stake in this. For them, men’s rights is about taking rights away from women, because in their misled philosophy, women’s gain must be men’s losses.
It doesn’t have to be that way, because a new masculinity will benefit both women and men. It will make the world a safer place for women. It will truly give women freedom not just on paper, but also in their personal lives. It will enhance men’s lives and make them into more emotionally healthy human beings, the kinds who can endure emotionally distressful situations, and get through the situations and become better people, rather than the kinds who will hurt their loved ones and themselves. Clearly, a new masculinity benefits us all, and now, more than ever, must be one of our priorities in making the world a more equal, safer place for all sexes.
If feminism is about empowering women with choices, the new masculinity, and it should be included within feminist, must be about equipping men with the emotional tools to honor women’s choices.